While NATO’s airstrikes have been successful in reducing Colonel Gaddafi’s ability to attack his people, he continues to target civilians in clear contravention of UN Security Council resolutions and international law. The UK has 23 aircraft and two naval vessels committed to the NATO-led operation. These continue to provide vital capability in support of UN Security Council resolution 1973.
I would like to associate myself and my hon. Friends with the remarks made by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, Peter Luff, about those brave service personnel who sadly lost their lives in service of their country.
On the Secretary of State’s answer, in view of concerns expressed, not least by the joint chiefs, about the affordability and sustainability of the UK’s continued military operation in Libya, will he advise us of what further diplomatic efforts are being pursued to find a non-military solution to the current conflict?
There is a very clear non-military solution to the current conflict: Colonel Gaddafi could stop attacking the civilian population in Libya. Until he does so, the international community will continue the military action, which we believe to be affordable and sustainable at the present time.
Does the Secretary of State share the assessment of Lady Amos that the bombardment of Misrata and the western mountain regions has led to an unacceptable situation in which aid convoys are unable to get the water, medicine and food that the people of these areas need? What further pressure can be put on the Gaddafi regime to stop this intolerable bombing and shelling?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support. In recent days, we have made it very clear through NATO that we intend to continue to degrade Colonel Gaddafi’s command and control capability, including his intelligence network. The regime needs to understand loud and clear that the international community is very resolute: it will continue its military activity as long as this absolutely unacceptable slaughter of the civilian population continues. I hope that the whole House will also be resolute in sending out a very clear message on that front.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, notwithstanding what the Chief of Defence Staff said over the weekend, our mission in Libya is humanitarian, and is about seeking a ceasefire and not about regime change?
Security Council resolution 1973 authorised the use of force for three different purposes: enforcement of the arms embargo, enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya, and the protection of civilians. Those are the clear delineations of our mission, and all the activities in which we have engaged, including our target sets, have fallen within the requirements of resolution 1973.
The Secretary of State is reported to have endorsed, over the weekend, General Richards’s call for an enlargement of the number of targets in Libya to include infrastructure targets. Has he received a legal opinion that that conforms with resolution 1973?
I confirmed over the weekend that NATO is continually reassessing the target sets within the targeting directive, which itself follows from resolution 1973. We believe that at all times the target-setting has been well within the requirements of that resolution, and I take responsibility for the setting, observation and implementation of targets very seriously indeed.
The Secretary of State will know that we are committed to a bipartisan approach on Libya. I join the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, Peter Luff, in his condolences and prayers for the family of one officer, Graham Bean, and the as yet unnamed Royal Marine.
The men and women of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air force have done remarkable work in and around Libya. However, may I ask the Secretary of State about the comment by the First Sea Lord that if operations around Libya were to last longer than six months, a significant “challenge” would be created? Does the Secretary of State agree with that assessment, and what military advice has he received about maintaining the current UK tempo of military activity beyond those six months?
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s support, but, as he is well aware, contingency planning goes on because we do not know how long Colonel Gaddafi will continue his resistance to international opinion and in the face of international law. We will continue to look at the range of contingencies, but we all hope that Colonel Gaddafi will recognise that the game is up either sooner or later—hopefully sooner—so that the cost, in terms not just of money but, more important, of lives, is minimised in the months ahead. We will look at all contingencies, but it is important to recognise that we are resolute and that the work of the international community, whose military leaders met at the weekend, will not cease until the task is properly carried out.
I welcome that response, but today’s newspapers report further MOD cuts and the fact that the MOD is undertaking a three-month internal spending review. The Secretary of State says ,“We will look at all contingencies”, but in the light of those reports, the events in Libya and the rest of north Africa, and the further events that are spreading across the middle east, should he not finally agree with Lord Ashdown, General Dannatt, the Army Families Federation and most members of the defence community that now is the time to reopen the rushed and increasingly discredited Government defence review?
Those who wish us to reopen the strategic defence and security review, and who are looking at the same real world and at the same financial constraints, need to tell us whether they would provide a larger defence budget. If they continue with the same assumptions in the same real world but do not increase the budget, they will see the same outcome because they will be under the same constraints. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will finally tell us whether Labour intends to retain the same defence budget or to reduce the defence budget, because that is the key element in the equation.